The NFL Referees Association and the league are headed to federal mediation.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced Thursday that the NFL and the referees’ association had accepted an offer for mediators to participate in their negotiation of a new labor agreement.

The current deal expires at the end of this month and the NFL has instructed its scouting department for officials to begin preparing for the possibility that replacement officials could be used during the upcoming season if a deal is not struck.

Both sides say they are intent on reaching a deal.

The Washington-based FMCS mediated the negotiations between the league and the players’ union last year before the players were locked out for 4 1 / 2 months. The league and the players did not return to federal mediation when negotiations resumed, ultimately producing a 10-year labor agreement completed last summer. A court-appointed mediator in Minnesota oversaw settlement talks after players dissolved their union and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the owners.